Southwest Minnesota Broadband receives Blandin Foundation Courageous Leadership Award

NISSWA, Minn. (Oct. 14, 2019) – Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) was presented with a Courageous Leadership Award at the 15th annual Blandin Foundation broadband conference, Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work, held last week at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, Minn. The cooperative’s governing board was honored for their vision and multi-community collaboration in creating a public regional fiber network that serves residential and business customers in eight rural communities.

“The Southwest Minnesota Broadband story is an inspiring example of residents coming together to claim the broadband-enabled future they want for their families and communities,” said Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at Blandin Foundation. “Ten years ago, 58 percent of the service region lacked access to broadband.  Community leaders saw the need and worked together to build a world-class network that will ensure southwest Minnesota is not left behind in our global economy.”

Courageous Leadership Awards were created by Blandin Foundation to recognize and celebrate acts of leadership that have significantly contributed to the vibrancy of rural Minnesota communities.

In 2011, the communities of Jackson, Brewster, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake began exploring broadband solutions. Building on WindomNet, Minnesota’s first municipally owned broadband network, the community was successful in obtaining a $12.8 million federal grant and built a world-class fiber-to-the-home network that reaches more than 3,500 residences, 300 businesses and over 50 anchor institutions. In addition to providing the region with faster, more reliable, and more affordable broadband, telephone calls from one town to another are now local rather than long-distance.

“Our network wouldn’t have happened without local leadership,” said Travis Thies, general manager at Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services. “Early leaders were able to see that broadband would be essential for future economic growth. Now we’re not only keeping businesses that were thinking about relocating, we’re growing new businesses thanks to the connectivity.”

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services was honored alongside 11 other awardees who all have taken courageous action to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. They include: City of Windom, the partnership between Cook County and Arrowhead Electric, PCs for People, the partnership between Lac qui Parle County and Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, RS Fiber, the late Paul Bergman, City of Monticello, Jan Keogh, Nancy Hoffman, and Gary Evans.

“All of these individuals, organizations and communities learned early on what other rural communities are just now realizing – that broadband access, and the skills to use it, are fundamental for strong economies, leading-edge education and healthcare, and equal access to opportunity.”  said Joselyn.

Read profiles of each award winner at


About Blandin Foundation: Blandin Foundation works for vibrant rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all residents. Located in Grand Rapids, Minn., it is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota. Information on Blandin Foundation grant-making, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives: Information about the Blandin Broadband Communities Program:


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Blandin Foundation

Allison Ahcan, Director of Communications

C: 218-259-2893

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